In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous, beautiful creatures that lured sailors to their deaths. They disarmed their victims through the power of beauty and music. Even the most prepared mariner could fall to their charms.
We can see the ancient myth reflected in obsessions with modern-day sirens who hide their dangerous natures behind attractive facades. Some are fictional. Some are real. The serial killer Ted Bundy is one example of a fable can turned into deadly reality.
Funny thing about Ted Bundy (is there really anything funny about Ted Bundy?) is that even though he viciously attacked and brutalized countless women, there were — and are — women out there who…well, to put it bluntly, don’t care.
How much don’t they care? Exhibit A:
I've seen a lot of talk about Ted Bundy’s alleged hotness and would like to gently remind everyone that there are literally THOUSANDS of hot men on the service — almost all of whom are not convicted serial murderers
— Netflix US (@netflix) January 28, 2019
When a streaming service has to make a statement like this, I think it’s safe to say we’ve got a problem.
Then there’s actor Penn Badgley. He had to make a statement about his super creepy character on Netflix’s You. In this article, he addresses the responsibility he and the filmmakers had to keep from sending the wrong message. But at the same time, during filming he was told to make this stalker/killer boyfriend “less creepy.”
A MURKY HISTORY
Back in the day it was nothing to see men dominating women, and women sort of melting in the face of their brutish strength. Gone With the Wind comes to mind. Rhett Butler is in a jealous rage and decides to make his wife understand that she belongs to him.
Watching that scene as a child, I didn’t quite grasp what was happening. Now, as an adult, I’m horrified; even more so when the camera pans on Scarlett the next morning looking oh-so-happy, refreshed and cheerful.
What the hell is that?
Don’t get me wrong. I love this movie. It’s a sweeping epic, and being a Civil War buff, I appreciate the Atlanta scenes immensely. When it comes to the relationships, however, it’s a bit jarring. This movie is constantly called a romance, but there’s not much romancing going on. Rhett and Scarlett use each other time after time. And when Scarlett begins to feel a shred of actual emotion for Rhett, he mocks her.
It’s not a healthy relationship at all.
Watch any James Bond movie and it’s more or less the same. A handsome, charming, suave super spy can land any woman he wants, no matter how horribly he treats her.
You would think things would’ve changed by 2019. Yet even today, violence against women is romanticized and normalized. There are a host of examples of modern TV shows and films guilty of this. I could probably write a thesis on the subject. But since this is an editorial, and no one wants to read all of that in one sitting, you’re just going to get a few highlights.
STAR WARS – THE FANDOM MENACE
First we met Anakin Skywalker, the cute, pod racing, smooth talking slave boy with a thing for older girls. Then he grew up and became a damn stalker. Seriously, I don’t think I know one person who was not creeped out by Anakin in Attack of the Clones.
This scene alone makes me want to hand Padme some mace and a set of brass knuckles.
But no, we’ve got more. Anakin straight up murders an entire village of Sand People. Sure, they tortured and killed his mom. But two wrongs don’t make a right. He slaughtered them like animals, then told Padme what he’d done. Women, children, he killed them all.
That should have been a GIANT red flag.
But no. Padme agrees to secretly marry her stalker. Then she can’t believe it when Obi-Wan tells her Anakin murdered all the younglings in the Jedi Temple.
Really, Padme? Were you THAT surprised?
This romance is the whole reason for Darth Vader’s reign of terror on the galaxy. It’s what ultimately makes him become Darth Vader, because he wants to save Padme. He wants to save her so much, he force chokes her. Isn’t that romantic?
It’s not meant to be. Anakin’s fall is meant to be tragic. And it is. But what’s even more tragic is that in the new series we have a whole new level of yuck.
IT MUST RUN IN THE FAMILY
In The Force Awakens, we meet Kylo Ren. Kylo has a temper. Not surprising when you discover his grandfather was none other than Anakin Skywalker, the man who became Darth Vader. It shouldn’t surprise us that Kylo also has a major creep vibe, particularly with Rey – who may or may not be related to him.
In a brutal scene, which director J. J. Abrams allegedly described as a “mind rape,” Kylo steals Rey’s thoughts. Okay, it’s not rape in the sense that we think. But it’s still a form of abuse.
Fast forward a few minutes and he murders Han Solo right in front of her too. Han may have been Kylo’s absentee father, but to Rey, Han was the father she never knew.
Would that scream romance to you?
It did to some: most notably, the next director, Rian Johnson. He gave the world something we never asked for, a topless Kylo Ren. In a scene he describes as the “closest thing to sex” in Star Wars, Rey and Kylo’s fingers touch in a vision. This apparently indicates their close connection.
How close that connection is, I guess we’ll find out later this year. I hope for Rian’s sake they aren’t related. Just so we’re clear, Kylo mind raped Rey, cruelly murdered his father right in front of her, told her she was nothing, and yet we’re supposed to be swooning over their “connection?”
TIMELESS: AN AMERICAN PSYCHO
Timeless is one of my most favorite shows, so it hurts to call them out for this. One thing I ADORED about Timeless was its attention to the marginalized, the sidelined, and the silenced. Those who had been neglected by history, their stories mostly forgotten, were given a chance to shine.
Lucy Preston, the historian in charge of protecting history from Garcia Flynn’s wrath, is nearly killed by him countless times throughout the first season. Why? His wife and child were murdered by a shifty organization known as Rittenhouse.
Upon meeting her, Flynn uses Lucy as a human shield. Then he chokes her and hands her over to the Nazis to be executed. Later, he sends a volley of relentless bullets her way and strands her in 1754 with no way of coming back. In one of the most chilling episodes of the season, he actually kidnaps her when she refuses to stand aside to let him murder a child.
Pretty awful, right?
WAY TO FLYNN IT UP
Imagine my surprise when I discovered the writers decided they saw CHEMISTRY in THAT particular episode.
Let me repeat that.
In the episode where Flynn kidnaps Lucy (violently) they saw CHEMISTRY and decided to explore it. Don’t believe me? Here’s this article and this one…and also this tweet. The episode after that one was so much worse. Kidnapped Lucy is coerced, emotionally manipulated and abused, and her life is repeatedly threatened.
Sounds like the basis for a good, trusting relationship to me!
Let me just say, I was never opposed to a friendship between the two. But the sudden and almost absolute trust she has in him in Season 2 is kind of short-sighted, given everything he did to her.
Over the summer, fans were treated to deleted season from Season 2. In one scene in particular, Lucy gets drunk in Flynn’s room and passes out. The next morning he actually jokes about taking advantage of her.
I’m sorry, didn’t we just have the #MeToo movement? Timeless, what the freaking hell? That scene was so grossly inappropriate it was the only scene I was happy they left out of the actual show.
In the December movie, it appears somebody read the 2018 room. There was finally an “Oops, my bad moment” from Flynn. His character heroically sacrifices himself, explaining that because he did so many awful things, he’s the one who is expendable. Ya know, since he was going around saying that to Lucy ALL of Season 1. It really did become a beautiful arc for his character. His going to see his family in the past before he died was a full circle moment that moved many to tears. Myself included.
I won’t deny that Lucy and Flynn’s dynamic is/was an amazing thing to see on screen. But chemistry does not have to equal ROMANCE. For many, the attempted romantic pairing of these two, after all the abuse he inflicted on her, made Timeless’ message of giving a voice to the marginalized ring a bit hollow.
I’m just so glad they redeemed themselves in the movie.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: PUT A SPIKE IN IT, I’M DONE.
Spike had a reputation for being a pretty violent vampire. His name, in fact, is derived from his penchant for torturing his victims with railroad spikes.
His relationship with Buffy began as antagonistic. After a few shaky alliances, he joined the Scooby Gang. Even though she was a Vampire Slayer, Buffy, feeling like she has no purpose, enters into a loveless destructive sexual relationship with him. When she finally comes to her senses and realizes she’s better than that, she ends things.
But not so fast!
Spike has fallen for her and tells her so, one day in a bathroom. (see video clip here) Buffy flatly tells him she can never love him. So what does he do? He tries to rape her. It’s a truly brutal and terrifying scene. After she nearly busts her head on her bath tub in an attempt to fight him off, she’s literally crawling on the floor in a robe trying to get away from him. Buffy finally gets some leverage and literally kicks his ass away from her.
Ask me again why I could never love you.
That’s a great line, Buffy. Let’s remember that for later, shall we?
Spike leaves Sunnydale to deal with his unrequited feelings. Fairly sure there was some embarrassment and shame on his part too. However, I’m not going to feel sorry for him. You don’t tell someone you love them and try to violently rape them. That’s not love, folks. When he does return, he sacrifices himself. But not before telling Buffy one more time that he loves her. And this time, Buffy tells him she loves him back.
TWILIGHT: ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD
I have a feeling I’m going to get run out of town for this one, since all my friends and their dogs love this series.
But when your relationship is featured in Psychology Today, it’s probably not a good thing. Such is the case for Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. Edward is 100+ years old. Bella is 17.
Let’s not address the fact that he’s a vampire and she’s a human. That’s not really fair. Let’s DO talk about the fact that Edward stalks her, breaks into her house and watches her sleep. Why? Because he loves her. Or…rather, he’s attracted to her scent. Because he wants to drink her blood.
Let’s talk about how the minute he left her, Bella went suicidal. She could not live without him. What kind of message does that send to the young teenagers for whom this series was primarily written and later filmed. Let’s talk about how Edward sabotaged Bella’s vehicle so she couldn’t see Jacob. Imagine your significant other doing that so you couldn’t see your friends. Sounds like a good opportunity for a restraining order if you ask me.
Though there is no blatant physical abuse, the domineering, controlling aspect of their relationship is worrisome enough that there are people who actually use this series to teach about toxic relationships.
But he’s so handsome and sparkly!!!
THE JOKE’S ON YOU
When it comes to great romances, The Joker and Harley Quinn do not come to mind, for very good reason. Theirs was no match made in heaven. It was a match made in Arkham Asylum, and it shows.
Apart from being completely and totally unbalanced, these two could be the poster couple for domestic abuse. Harley is completely obsessed with her Puddin’. But he is more or less indifferent to her. And when I say indifferent, I mean he not only verbally abuses her, he physically abuses her as well. If he’s not hitting her or tossing her out of buildings, he’s playing mind games with her.
And this is in Batman: The Animated Series.
In Suicide Squad, the abuse is toned down somewhat, but their relationship is far from healthy. She dives into a vat of acid to prove her love for him and he murders for her.
A match made in Arkham Asylum indeed.
BEAUTY AND THE STOCKHOLM SYNDROME
I love Beauty and the Beast. It is my favorite Disney movie. I love the redemptive arc for the Beast and I think it’s a great example of seeing someone for who they are, rather than what they look like.
That said, he held her prisoner.
Sure, she agreed to that little arrangement to spare her father, but she was still his prisoner. Belle pleaded with him to let her father go and he refused. She pointed out that her father was sick and could be dying. The Beast didn’t give two sh*ts about that. So really, what else could she do but offer to take her father’s place?
On the upside, he doesn’t keep her in a dungeon. On the downside, he threatens to break down her door when she won’t come down to dinner. In true badass fashion, Belle refuses, which prompts the Beast to coerce her with the threat of starvation.
Little by little they come together, and soon she kind of forgets about his jackassery…mostly because he saves her life and then gives her a library full of books. Since she had been considered more or less a freak for her love of reading in the village she once inhabited, the two bond over being social outcasts.
After a romantic dinner and night of dancing, Beast asks Belle if she’s happy at the castle with him. It’s a sweet moment, but let’s not forget: SHE’S HIS PRISONER. Belle seems to have forgotten that little hitch in their relationship because she says, “Yes.” Her only regret? She wants to see her father.
Understandable, since they didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye before her life sentence commenced.
In the end, he lets her go and she comes back…just like the old adage. While there are some beautiful elements in this about forgiveness, redemption and inner beauty, there’s a darkness to this story that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Happily Never After…
People are going to like what they are going to like. What one person considers inappropriate, another will swoon over. Some people don’t have an issue with incest on Game of Thrones, while for others it’s nausea-inducing. Some people love 50 Shades of Gray. For others it sends a dangerous message. Sure, it’s a consensual relationship. But how “romantic” would it be if Christian Gray wasn’t a good-looking millionaire. What if, instead, he was a portly guy in a trailer park? Would it have the same swoon factor then? Or would it be more creepy like Room?
We will never agree on what should pass as romance in entertainment media. That is about as subjective and personal as you can get. I would hope, though, that in the 21st century, rape, kidnapping, stalking and abuse would be off the table as elements used to move a couple forward.
No matter how “hot” the leading man/woman is.